April 5, 2015
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable to you, oh God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Happy Easter! It has been a long winter. And while the snow was beautiful, I have been looking forward to the hope and renewal of this time of year. And now the sun is shining, and the rain is dropping to make the flowers grow, and the earth is moaning with new life. Creation preaches the sermon for us this time of year.
But resurrection means more than the flowers starting to bloom again. And if you are a fan of the AMC show Walking Dead, like I am, resurrection also means more than a bunch of zombies walking around.
Resurrection is the incredible human/divine impulse to say, that even after the most awful things in the world, there is still hope for new and beautiful life. That out of the very worst things that we can even imagine, that suffering does not have the last word. Life, and love, always have the last word. And in fact, it is most powerfully out of these very wounds, that beauty, joy, renewal, wisdom, justice can be born. And we celebrate that today.
Sometimes being in the world is like walking through a dark wood, or surviving a deep winter. This is the ritual purpose of Holy Week; Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Except in community, we do not walk in the dark wood alone. We are together. Side by side, each week, if we choose. And this is tremendous news.
When Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Salome walk to the tomb of Jesus after he has died, they are together. They are beside each other.
As they are walking, before the sun had risen, they remark to one another, “who will roll the stone away?” They have come to give Jesus a proper burial after his brutal death “When they looked up, after trekking through the darkness, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back!” A young man says to them, “He has been raised, he is not here. Go tell his disciples, and Peter!” But they went out and fled from the tomb, and the text says, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
The Gospel of Mark leaves us with vulnerable humans, so close to their own dramas that they run from the tomb, seized by terror and amazement. They aren’t ready to talk about it yet.
As the earliest Gospel account, the community of Christ followers who wrote the Gospel of Mark were closest to the death of Jesus. Most impacted by his death, perhaps most traumatized by it. This trauma of Jesus dying brutally happened to them too. Jesus was their leader, their lover, their teacher, the friend, their family. The person who brought hope to their lives, and who made them believe that a new world was possible.
But all the things that Jesus spoke out against in the world, came crashing down on him, and his death was an example of the crushing power of empire, of oppression, that Jesus was trying to liberate people from. Yet still, they were together.
So a century or so later, more authors read Mark and say, “they run away afraid and don’t say anything? Well this is unsatisfying- We can’t end the story like this! We need hope!” So they make the Gospel of Mark a little shinier, more unified with the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, by writing in another ending, where the women do tell everyone, and Jesus actually appears to the disciples.
Now there is some danger in this, not because of intellectual property or copywriting; these are modern western inventions, but because healing takes time, joy is not instant. But there is some beauty in this revision as well.
It is as if the new authors say to the traumatized writers of Mark, “We understand that you were afraid and ran away. But we have stayed with the pain of it a little longer, and we know that fear does not have the last word; but love does.”
The communal purpose of putting our attention on the suffering of one human, two-thousand years ago, is that it unifies us with one another, and unifies us with the community of Christ followers who have come before, and who will come. We tell this one story, over and over again, together, and our burden is lightened.
We don’t have to do anything today; the good news unfolds before our eyes. We simply behold it, and let it hold us. Today we are saved from our individual lives, and resurrected into new life, together, by a God who loves us beyond our wildest imaginations. With the resurrection, Jesus saves us from ourselves, and joins us together with one another. With the resurrected Christ, it becomes idolatry to suffer alone. Something so common, that we share, such as death and suffering, can unify us rather than alienate us. The stones are rolled away today.
We had stones of our own during Lent. You may have noticed stones on the altar every Sunday of Lent. During the Ash Wednesday service here, there was a ritual moment where we were invited to take a stone and to imbue the stone with a burden, something we wanted to let go of, something that prevented us from living into our full animated self. Then we placed that stone in the baptismal font. We prayed for a clean heart. Over the next 40 days, these rocks bumped into one another, they rubbed off on each other, they mixed up. On Easter, we hear that the stone has been rolled away. The stone of our death, of our suffering, of our burdens, has symbolically been lifted. If you’d like, I invite you to come up to the altar after church, and take a stone of someone elses. The symbol becomes that we carry each other’s burdens.
Without community, the dry bones of our individual selves are like the skeletons in the Ezekiel passage, unanimated, without one another. Then every kind gesture, good word, prayer and affirmative thought, wraps sinews and flesh, breathes spirit and breath into our clanky bones, so that we, resurrected, can rise from the death of our individual suffering, into the community of love, of one another, of the body of Christ.
The possibility of life in the Body of the Risen Christ, is that we share burdens. Easter doesn’t cure your cancer. But in the community of the resurrected Christ, we walk with one another. We pray. We bring each other soup. We speak truth, in love, over difference about how to best allocate our funds, about which new type of door to buy, or which justice mission to dedicate our time and energy to. When we walk in the community of the resurrected Christ, we become lighter. We are resurrected into new life and are called to activate within ourselves the simple awe of being alive.
Contemporary spiritual leader writes, “If you are not astonished that you exist, your humanity is not complete.” There is something about looking suffering in the face, that gives us the breath and relief of saying; wow, being alive is an incredible gift. Let us use this life to affirm more life, to bring goodness and beauty and love into the world. This is the spirit of Christ within us, to affirm love and life in the face of pain, and today, we celebrate this. Let it be so. Happy Easter! Amen.